Category Archives: playground design

Popular Mechanics on the Playground Beat

I remember Popular Mechanics as a boy growing up in the 1960s. One of the trademarks was a small font size. They also had wondrous plans, superb graphics and fine photos. Until I stumbled across an old issue, I had never considered it as a resource for playground research. At the turn of the last century, Popular Mechanics had started chronicling the playground world in the United States. Who knew?

Nearly 500 cities now have public playgrounds and about half of them receive municipal support. In 257 cities last year over $2,500,000 was spent on 1,543 playgrounds, and 4,132 attendants were hired.

Popular Mechanics – October 1913

“Providing play under intelligent direction,” was a primary motivator in the development of playgrounds as stated in the October 1913 issue of the magazine (see below). At the time, playgrounds were a relatively new phenomenon. The article comments on a governance shift moving responsibility for playgrounds from the oversight of private citizens to municipal governments.

The same article also relates the story of a New Orleans fly swatting contest. Nearly 4.5 million flies were dispatched in a two week period by 32 boys. Had Guinness been around surely they would have had a record on their hands.

Over the ensuing decades, the publication continued to print articles on do-it-yourself playgrounds, innovative playground design, and the latest trends occasionally going beyond America’s shores in search of examples and stories.

The October, 1924 issue featured a drawing of a revolving barrel worthy of inclusion in any lumberjack competition. It looks like a lot of fun but it’s not the type of equipment that would pass muster by today’s playground safety standards.

In the early 1930s, the magazine offered a do-it-yourself article for a backyard playground with a kid-powered mini Ferris wheel, a roller coaster simulation and a treadmill. In spite of what looks to be a lot of fun on paper, none of these apparently had the staying power to become part of the conventional playground canon.

In their September 1953 issue, Popular Mechanics published a one-page item entitled Junk-Yard Playground.

This photo taken in Copenhagen is an early example of an adventure playground. The concept of a space that is forever being tinkered with, a kinetic design and build studio for kids, went on to become popular in selected communities around the world. The build it approach fit right in with Popular Mechanic’s do-it-yourself focus.

Currently, adventure playgrounds are relatively few in number and in some instances under threat but the passion of their supporters is legendary. A recent example of citizen engagement that saved one adventure playground from possible destruction is in Irvine, California.

In 1956, the publication explored playgrounds with ‘imagination’. Primary examples of this new departure in playground design and equipment were drawn from California – specifically Oakland and San Francisco. It’s a time of experimentation, a time when designs embrace aesthetics and functionality.

Rounding out this PM retrospective is the ‘taking the hurt out of play’ piece from the September 1963 issue. It’s all about safety and reducing the risk of injury.

A half century of playground commentary starting nearly 100 years ago and many of the issues remain in play today. Around the world there is still inadequate space and resources being dedicated to playgrounds. Individuals, community groups and international organizations in North America and beyond are advocating to improve this situation. Design is ever evolving and will continue to bring to light new and imaginative structures and spaces. Witness this year’s inaugural Playable10 competition out of Atlanta. And of course there is the perennial debate around safety.

There are a few more gems left from my Popular Mechanics archival searches. There are some other publications that have printed interesting playground articles over the years too. Stay tuned to read more about them in a future post.

All images and all articles – Popular Mechanics.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Sweet Shots – World of Playgrounds II

This is the second installment of Sweet Shots where we share some of the fine playground photos we’ve come across in our digital trolling.

Children of Darfur at play
AP Images – Nasser Nasser

Children everywhere, given the opportunity, will jump at the chance to play. Even in Darfur these simple swings can sweep an arc of joy.

Alfio Bonnano’s Amager Ark part of Kalvebod Faelled, Copenhagen
Creative Commons – Attribution 2.0 Generic

The Amager Ark is one of a series of pieces on an adventurous route designed and installed by artist Alfio Bonnano. Each of the art playgrounds is created with all natural products. Read about the artist’s thoughts on this series here.

Launch pad to the Alps – Parc des Pierrettes, St-Sulpice, Switzerland
Raphael Ullmann
Creative Commons – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

The slide at the top of the world in the small village of St-Sulpice, Switzerland. What a stunning view. Hard to believe that it could ever become humdrum.

Playground Oasis, Coney Island, New York
Marco de Stabile
Creative Commons – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

The quiet, the solitude, the absence of kids. This must be an early morning shot looking east to the old world.

Parque La Carolina – Quito, Ecuador
From The Wide Wide World by The James Family on flickr
Creative Commons – Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic

This former military aircraft is now a permanent fixture of Quito’s urban La Carolina Park. At one point, the entire fuselage was used as a canvass to promote the film Madagascar 2. I think there is some benefit in looking at playgrounds as commercial free zones, places where kids can go and not be pitched by advertisers.

So ends the Sweet Shots II. Many thanks to the photographers for making this all possible and to flickr for giving us all a home.

Click here for Sweet Shots I

If you have a Sweet Shot capturing the world of playgrounds that you’d like to share, please send a copy to PlayGroundology at

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Strathcona’s Folly – Fit for a Prince

The setting is magical and enchanted, a page right out of children’s literature. Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince would find a welcome refuge in this playscape, another station on his voyage of discovery. I can see the golden haired boy exploring in the midst of the ruins. There he is meditating on the slipperiness of time while his sheep grazes on the surrounding grass.

This imaginative structure would also be right at home in the child-build-it world of Saint Denys Garneau’s poem, Le Jeu. This is a place to make believe, to create, to discover.

In the here and now, a remarkable playscape gradually emerges from the shadows in Sandy Hill’s Strathcona Park. The first fingers of morning are skittering across the Rideau River shallows in Ottawa’s east end. The waking light lends a softness to forms and a timelessness to place. This could be antiquity. Pillars, arches, great blocks of stone, walls in faux disrepair and sand strewn in glorious abandon create a delightful home for play.

At day break, the ruins are quiet. The playgrounder kids are still at home. In solitude, I can unhurriedly explore this space I’ve touched and breathed before. Strathcona’s Folly, as it’s called, is a place I came to with my daughter Alexa on a few occasions nearly 15 years ago. Even with the intervening years, I still recall a sense of marvelous wonderment from those visits – a sense that is instantly refired on this particular fall morning.

Canadian artist Stephen Brathwaite designed this playable art as a commission for the City of Ottawa. It is a distinctive playscape, as unusual as it is unorthodox. Only two elements are of the standard playground ilk. A bronze dipped body of a springrider rooster perches atop a column where only the most adventurous would attempt to saddle up. At ground level sand fills the space. These grains of time are constantly rearranged by wind, little hands and feet, permeating everything, drifting into the cracks, crannies and crevices.

Brathwaite’s commission is a time capsule of sorts. “The concept was that parents would sit on the hillside reliving their own youth,” said Brathwaite in a recent interview with PlayGroundology. “They would be watching their children who would be playing amidst artefacts of the parents’ childhood. We did a sundial on the back too to make a more obvious reference to time.”

Range Road borders Strathcona Park’s western boundary. Large stately homes, some of them now embassies, look across the green sward to the rippling Rideau River and to Vanier beyond.

Brathwaite’s idea was to make a piece that would appear to be the ruins of a neighbourhood home. The artist was inspired by his own memories of childhood play with his brother. They loved putting together structures with their Canadian Logs building set, laying out roads in the sandbox and cruising their Dinky toys around the towns and landscapes they created.

Strathcona’s Folly is a grander scale of their imaginings as kids. Brathwaite reclaimed and recycled building ‘blocks’ from a variety of sources. The blocks adorned with youthful art deco faces were originally features of a branch of the Bank of Montreal. Now three chiseled portraits peer out from the playscape at everyone arriving from the western and eastern approaches.

Other architectural hand me downs include off cuts from the pillars that were used in the restoration of the Rideau Canal, balustrades from the Chateau Laurier hotel, as well as miscellaneous discarded treasures from Canada’s Parliament Buildings, the Royal Canadian Mint, a local convent and the Capitol Theatre.

This is a project completed with passion, care and attention to detail. Surveying the finished product, it all looks so easy and effortless. However, some unanticipated problems were encountered during the initial construction phase. A high water table resulted in trench walls falling in during excavation. This required an alternative approach to the conventional footings and foundation. Forming tubes, surface beams and injected cement resolved the difficulties.

When concrete was injected into the forming tubes it displaced water that shot out like a geyser mixed with cement and rained down on the workers – not the most desirable effect in chilly autumn weather. This may have been one of the contributing factors that had City of Ottawa workers calling the new playscape Brathwaite’s Folly.

Neighbourhood children had their curiosity honed to a fine point during the following summer’s build. Doug Bamford who collaborated with Brathwaite on the installation and construction remembers a young Russian boy from the embassy across the street. He was a daily visitor to the site, watching the pieces take shape.

“He was 5 or 6 years old. He and I had long philosophical discussions about the world – in broken English. We had a great time talking with each other. He just loved what we were doing. He helped, he mixed cement. We were probably being watched the whole time by people over in the embassy.”

Bamford, an artist and educator at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, also remembers scaffolding discussions during the work day with members of the public. “I had a great time that summer being a sort of cultural spokesperson. Being involved in the educational business it was fun and challenging to be positively engaged in cultural diplomacy and to have an opportunity to explain my views on the validity of artistic expression.”

Some parents were concerned about possible safety hazards and the potential dangers of falling off walls. Brathwaite recalls the context. “At the time it was such a worry, playgrounds were such a minefield for safety. The constraints were getting narrower and narrower. There was a group in the community that had a lot of concerns about the potential for kids to climb on this and fall down and hurt themselves. We tried to make sure that any elevation change was abrupt enough that climbing would be more difficult. Ultimately after it was there and people had adopted it, they told me how much they loved it, how comfortable it was.”

Click for Strathcona’s Folly slide show on flickr

The pillars, blocks and arches are massive from a child’s perspective but there are surprises for tiny hands to touch and discover recessed in the inside walls. Miniature animals posed in groups of two or three stare out from their frames. The bronze menagerie was cast from real toys and is placed at the eye level of a small child.

After all these years exposed to the elements and the inquisitive hands of little boys and girls, there is still some lustre left in the figurines though speckles of green are starting to show. Two pairs of shoes tucked away in a corner at ground level have also received the bronzed artefact treatment. They are the artist’s own shoes stepping through time from the boy builder to the man artist.

Over the years, Strathcona’s Folly has been recognized by local media in ‘people’s choice’ campaigns as the best playground in the city. The local Shakespeare in the Park theatre group sometimes uses it as part of its set. It is a mainstay of the public art landscape – a play place that encourages creativity, curiosity and wonder.

Brathwaite is pleased with how it has all turned out. “One day I opened up the Saturday paper to the fashion section. There was a whole fashion shoot in and around Strathcona’s Folly. There was no reference to who made it. Fabulous I thought, it has now become a part of the vernacular of the city, part of the landscape. It’s been totally embraced.”

Brathwaite and Bamford continue to work with one another on public art projects and commissions. With any luck, perhaps we’ll see them turn their hands and imaginations again to the world of child’s play.


Playable10 Encouraging New Playground Design Paradigms

If you believe in playgrounds, you’re going to love what’s happening in Atlanta, Georgia and the whole world has been invited to the ball. There’s now an exciting, new place to exchange, promote and recognize excellence and creativity in playground design.

Cynthia Gentry, a passionate advocate for play, has taken the lead on establishing a juried international competition for playground design. A dedicated team of friends and volunteers with a shoestring budget and modest corporate support have created a global sandbox where children and designers are sharing their ideas and concepts of creative playground spaces and structures.

The Playable10 competition has four categories. Playable Kids is already a wrap. Submissions from children came from around the planet including one from a remote village in Nepal. There was a recurring theme from kids – they love to play with their families.

Winners in the remaining three categories – playable art, playable d-i-y and and playable site will be posted on the Playable10 site this evening at approximately 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

PlayGroundology caught up with Cynthia earlier this week and got a peek into the Playable10 world.

PlaygroundologyWhat is the motivation/inspiration that got Playable10 off the ground?

Cynthia Gentry – The idea for Playable10 International Design Competition was a direct result of reading Susan Solomon’s, American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space. In it, the author describes a playground design competition sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York in 1954.

I contacted the author, got to know her, and she loved the idea of resuscitating the competition. Susan has since become an incredibly supportive mentor whose opinion I treasure. We finally met face-to-face last year on The High Line in New York and she is on the Playable10 jury.

The seed for the idea goes back even farther to my first playground building experience. In the summer of 2003, a freak storm blew up suddenly in Atlanta during the evening rush hour. There was a loud crack of lightening louder than anything I had ever heard before. Shortly thereafter I heard the news that a 100-year-old tree had fallen on a car out in front of our neighborhood firehouse. In an instant it killed a mother and her two little boys as they sat in the back seat of the car. The father who was driving was unharmed.

It was a few hours before the names were released. Killed were Lisa Cunard, her three-year-old son Max, and 5-month-old baby boy Owen. They lived next door to me with the dad, Brad Cunard. As soon as the names were known my phone began ringing off the wall. People were calling asking me what we could do. Casseroles would be nice, but not enough. Then someone suggested that since our neighborhood playground was virtually unusable that maybe, just maybe, we could raise enough money to buy a new swing set.

The next few months were a blur as I took on this project. With the support of the grieving dad, it grew from a swing set to a $300,000, 2-level playground-memorial garden, a revitalized greenspace. A memorial wall was embedded with two bronze reliefs of Lisa and her boys. The Cunard Memorial Playground was built by over 400 volunteers on a beautiful fall morning a little over 3 months after the tragic accident. It is an amazing testimony to what a community can achieve together when inspired to help others.

The side result for me was I started learning about the importance of play and of great design in play. We used equipment from Europe that, at the time, was unlike anything we had ever seen before. We lushly landscaped the area and worked with the gently rolling hills to add visual and physical interest to the site.

I heard from many, many people that families would come from all over the city to visit this playground because it was so much fun for the kids and so soothing and beautiful for the grown-ups. There was a true and powerful sense of place there. It didn’t look like every other playground around. When you are at Cunard you know where you are. Others, where all vegetation is stripped away and a colorful mountain of plastic is installed, are strangely cold in spite of the color.

This is what motivated me to find a way to make each and every playground a true community center. I believe that a playground should be place that speaks to kids when they are there, that challenges them, and inspires them.

I have learned about the power of competitions to inspire “creative-types” to greatness and to educate the public about an idea. Once I read about the MOMA contest in Susan’s book I knew that that was something I had to try. I contacted Claudia Rebola, a play-oriented professor at Georgia Tech’s Industrial Design Program at the College of Architecture, and she jumped at the chance to join in. We’ve been hard at work ever since.

PlaygroundologyWhat feedback have you received from the broader international play community? IPA, Play London, KaBOOM!?

Cynthia Gentry – The feed back from the international play community has surpassed any expectations I might have had. All of the organizations you mentioned have helped promote the competition and have been incredibly supportive. I hope they will also help us share the results. We have also received great support from the design community. I am on the board of IPA/USA and I hope to get more extensive feedback from my colleagues as we prepare for the next competition. I visited with Play England in the Spring and they were thrilled with the idea. London Play was an enormous help in getting the word out overseas. KaBOOM! played a very active role in promoting the competition.

We were quite surprised by the number of people from overseas who participated in Playable10. We had registrations from Iran, Portugal, Poland, England, France, Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia, Sweden, Germany, Turkey and Colombia. Oh, and the US, too.

PlaygroundologyWhat are some of the components that go into making a great playground?

Cynthia Gentry – That is a harder question to answer than most might imagine and there are many answers. For me, the chief components are imagination sparkers (I just made up that term) and movement inciters (I made that up too). When a child approaches a playground with “that” look in their eyes you know you’ve got it right. And “that” look is a combination of excitement, anticipation, wonder, joy…and life.

I like playground design that can be many things to many children and that inspires a lot of movement. It’s great when the same space allows for a lot of creativity to go on in a child’s imagination: when the same place can be the hump of a giant dragon, or the fortress of a castle or the roll of a wave.

Play value is hard to quantify. When it’s possible for a playspace to be climbed over, crawled under, jumped around, moved on, slid down, run around, and still has a bit of a quiet space to be found it’s got a lot of that value.

Another important component that I learned about from the success of the Cunard build is “genius locii”, a sense of place. Too often playgrounds all look like one another. People go into a space, rip out every living thing, flatten the ground, and plop a big mound of brightly colored plastic onto the cold, hard moonscape they have created.

Kids can hardly tell one playground from another and that quickly leads to boredom. Playgrounds should be living and breathing spaces. Spaces should honor the community they are in and the land they are built upon. They should work with the rolling hills, they should have hardy plants and trees for hide-and-go-seek and shading. They should have personality.

I have had many parents tell me that they love the Cunard playground because the space is so beautifully landscaped. There is a great peace there even with all of the laughing and screaming. As a general rule, people underestimate the importance of beauty and interest in an environment and that is a dreadful shame. WIth just a little more effort on design wonderful environments for play can develop.

PlaygroundologyIs there a community of playground designers? If not, can Playable10 help in the creation of community?

Cynthia Gentry – One of my sincerest hopes is that Playable10 will help create a community of playspace designers. We have a lot of work to do before we accomplish that, but Playable10 is the first step. We are lucky that we have received attention around the world. That will help enormously.

Next up is the online exhibit of many entries into the competition. We want to protect the designers’ intellectual property, so we will probably just post a few pictures from each submission along with contact information. Also, the overdue mounting of the PlayableKids entries. I also hope to have interviews with a lot of children as they discuss the various designs. I think their takes on what they see will be informative.

PlaygroundologyIs Atlanta ahead of the crowd with a Task Force on Play? How did this come about?

Cynthia Gentry – The Atlanta Taskforce on Play (ATOP) is a direct result of KaBOOM’s Playful City USA competition. It is one of the requirements. ATOP has handled applying for this designation and we are one of the few cities to have attained the title Playful City USA every year. I have been very impressed with the attention that cities across the country are beginning to pay to play. It is very encouraging.

PlaygroundologyWhere did you play when you were a child? Where do you bring children to play now?

Cynthia Gentry – In terms of places to play I had an idyllic childhood. I grew up in a traditional neighborhood with lots of woods nearby. During the summer and on weekends, we would pretty much head outside in the morning and my mother would call out, “Be back in time for dinner!” My friends and I were always building forts in the the woods, climbing, hiking, and hanging out talking. We also were constantly engaged in fantasy play. For example, playing “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was huge back in those days. We’d make up our mysteries and run around the woods being chased by pretend bad guys.

Creative play was also huge. Back in those days there weren’t the television shows there are today and computers were only things you saw in science fiction movies. So we were free to be bored. Boredom is a HIGHLY underrated situation if you ask me. If we were bored we would figure out what to do. We put on plays and carnivals. We built haunted houses at Halloween. These days everybody thinks boredom is the kiss of death. I think it’s brilliant and leads to great things in children, but kids are never allowed to experience it without parents feeling they have somehow failed. Big mistake…HUGE!

Playgroundology What is the overall budget for Playable10?

Cynthia Gentry – Budget? I knew I forgot to do something. Let’s just say “shoestring” and, I’ll have to remember to work on that next time! Actually, we got a small grant from Landscape Structures for the Playable Kids competition, and another from the rock band R.E.M.’s manager for Playable10. We had some funding from the registration fees, too. Everyone involved worked as a volunteer.

Congratulations on Playable10. With Playable11 on the horizon, playgrounders the world over will be hearing more from the playable folks in Atlanta.

Photos and playground sketch – courtesy of Playable10.

Art as Play – The Indoors – Outdoors Playground

In the interior courtyard of Ottawa’s City Hall there is a place where the door is always open. The Living Room is a multiple piece static sculpture by the design duo at Urban Keios .

This is art as playground, an open invitation for children to make believe and scamper about slightly oversize chairs with out of kilter door and window frames defining the space. It looks like a set prepped for the shooting of a claymation adventure where we’re just waiting for the action to begin. There in the near distance is a TV permanently piping in the imagination station.

Although The Living Room is not designed as a playground per se, what kids could resist stopping off momentarily for a touch of make believe, of playing house, of filling the blue sky space with movement and laughter?

Somebody’s having fun. The grass is worn away down to hard packed earth between the door frame and around the chairs. I should have taken the opportunity to rest my own weary feet for a moment that day.

PlayGroundology has more to offer from Canada’s capital in a subsequent post. Stay tuned for Strathcona’s Folly, a timeless playscape constructed with architectural throwaways and lovingly designed with surprises for small hands and eyes.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Feel the Motion at 1950s Playground

This brief excerpt from a 1957 promotional film shot in Halifax, Nova Scotia features two pieces of playground equipment that have gone the way of the dinosaur.

The film, Citadel City, is part of the online collection of the Nova Scotia Archives.

I’d ride on either one of these with our kids by my side.

Tour of Otterness’ 42nd Street Playground

Playground packs in more fun than the proverbial barrel full of monkeys. Tom Otterness’ anthropomorphic sculpture installation is a space for wonderfalls, a place for children to imagine, to make believe and play.

Back in January I had the opportunity to interview Tom for PlayGroundology’s initial musings on the rich world of playscapes. Tom’s iconic installation is so arresting that I asked him if I could use a photo of Playground in my masthead as well as making it the subject of my first post. Permission granted and PlayGroundology now has a great visual that represents the spirit of the blog.

From the outset, Manhattan’s Bronze Guy has been a popular post. In June of this year it became even more so, as some of the millions from around the world who saw Playground as wallpaper on the Google homepage started looking for more information. It created a spike of visits to Tom’s homepage and to PlayGroundology.

Just recently I came across a video on Youtube that gives a partial tour of the 42nd Street PlayGround Bronze Guy. It has renewed my appetite to be there and play with my kids. I hope you enjoy this short vid as much as I did. Many thanks to Youtuber Jiunyiwu.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Chilean Miners Playground – Industrial Ingenuity

Otherworldly with a touch of the surreal describes some unique play structures that sit quietly in Chuquicamata, a former mining town in northern Chile. Located in the Atacama desert, the most arid on the planet, Chuqui is encircled by foothills of slag and tailings from nearly 100 years of mineral exploitation. The small town was an oasis of humanity surrounded by industrial waste on a massive scale. The community was shut down in 2007 because of significant environmental degradation. The people of Chuqui were relocated to Calamar although mining continues at what is the world’s largest open pit copper operation.

Hats off again to flickr and its contributing photographers. A search for ‘juegos infantiles’ pulled up a few thousand photos from South America, Spain and Portugal. These are the jewels – heavy gauge playground equipment from an abandoned town. Many thanks to Carlos Borlone Leuquén aka Mi otra carne in flickrville for sharing these photos.

We’ll never see equipment like this coming out of the Little Tikes design labs. This industrial folklore speaks to beauty through transforming a harsh landscape, to ingenuity through using materials at hand, to love through creating a space like no other to dream and play. This is innovative design infused with poetic vision.

There were other playgrounds in Chuqui with the standard swings and slides and roundabouts but nothing else as imaginative as these pieces.

Check here for more Chuqui playground structures.

Chile’s Nobel Laureate poet, Pablo Neruda writes starkly of Chuqui and the political struggles associated with mining in a poem included in the Canto General collection written decades prior to the nationalization of the mine by the Allende government.

Anaconda Mining Co.

Name of a coiled snake,
insatiable gullet, green monster,
in the clustered heights,
in my country’s rarefied
saddle, beneath the moon
of hardness–excavator–
you open the mineral’s
lunar craters, the galleries
of virgin copper, sheathed
in its granite sands.

In Chuquicamata’s eternal
night, in the heights,
I’ve seen the sacrificial fire burn,
the profuse crackling
of the cyclops that devoured the Chileans’ hands, weight
and waist, coiling them
beneath its copper vertebrae,
draining their warm blood,
crushing their skeletons
and spitting them out in the
desolate desert wastelands.

Air resounds in the heights
of starry Chuquicamata.
The galleries annihilate
the planet’s resistance
with man’s little hands,
the gorges’ sulphuric bird
trembles, the metal’s
iron cold mutinies
with its sullen scars,
and when the horns blast
the earth swallows a procession
of minuscule men who descend
to the crater’s mandibles.

They’re tiny captains,
my nephews, my children,
and when they pour the ingots
toward the seas, wipe
their brows and return shuddering
to the uttermost chill,
the great serpent eats them up,
reduces them, crushes them,
covers them with malignant spittle,
casts them out to the roads,
murders them with police,
sets them to rot in Pisagua,
imprisons them, spits on them,
buys a trecherous president
who insults and persecutes them,
kills them with hunger on the plains
of the sandy immensity.

And on the infernal slopes
there’s cross after twisted cross,
the only kindling scattered
by the tree of mining.

As Chuqui was being shut down, Jay Heinz shot a documentary Chuqui: The Life and Death of Mining Town.

Now world attention is focused on another Chilean mine and the well being of 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground at the San José mine in Copiapo. Their rescue is still weeks if not months away. May all go well for these brave men and their families.

All photos by C. Leuquén aka Mi otra carne.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Playground Access for All Abilities

The following guest post was written by Mara Kaplan of Let Kids Play. Mara has 15 years experience designing and operating inclusive playspaces. Let Kids Play provides accessibility services to organizations that operate playgrounds or other playspaces. In addition, Let Kids Play helps parents and grandparents select perfect toys for children with disabilities.

Mara is the editor of which includes a directory of accessible playgrounds throughout Canada and the United States as well as providing significant information about accessible playgrounds.

Research study, after research study has proven that children need to play. Children need to play because it makes them healthier and less likely to become obese. Children need to play because it makes them more focused in school. Children need to play because it teaches them social skills that are essential to becoming adept adults. Although play has been decreasing from our landscape, many children are still out there playing on playgrounds.

According to the United Nations, 10% of the world’s population has a disability. Other studies in the United States and Canada have put that number as high as 20%. To create a good playground, design is incredibly important. During the design process, we must be conscious of accessibility issues to ensure that we don’t leave out 10-20% of the children. Playgrounds are often inaccessible because no one talked about it at the beginning of the design phase. Make sure that your committee includes people with disabilities, parents who are raising children with disabilities, and other stakeholders.

One of the major decisions you will need to make is about surfacing. If a child cannot get to the playground all of the other issues are moot. Therefore, you need to look at how people get from the parking area to the playground and ensure that there is a smooth path making it easy for people using wheelchairs, pushing strollers, or using other mobility devices to reach your playground. Then you need to think about surfacing. Except in the United States, there are no required standards on accessibility. However, in Canada, the UK and other countries there are voluntary standards dealing with surfacing and safety.

To make a playground truly accessible, you do not want to use loose fill. Loose fill surfacing such as sand, pea gravel, wood fiber, and rubber shreds is very difficult to push a wheelchair or stroller across. In addition, many parents who are raising children with developmental delays and autism have expressed concerns about their children eating loose fill or putting it into their nose or eyes. There are parents who are raising children with autism who will not go to a playground when the surfacing is loose fill.

Synthetic surfacing such as pour-in-place, rubber tiles, and turf designed for playgrounds are workable alternatives to loose fill. Although these options are all more expensive upfront, they do not require the constant maintenance of loose fill. The other benefit is you don’t need to add new fill on a regular basis. To meet safety standards, loose fill needs to remain at a certain depth, which requires regular purchases of new fill.

Once you have made a decision about surfacing—which is probably the most expensive decision you will make–you need to keep in mind that children’s abilities, regardless of their diagnosis are very diverse. Remember that all disabilities are not physical. There are children with autism and other sensory disabilities. There are children with a variety of learning disabilities and developmental delays. Therefore, you don’t have to put all of your money into a ramped structure. If you do include a lot of ramps there should be something significant to do at the top of the ramp. It should be recognized that it will never be possible for all users (whether they have a disability or not) to access all equipment or play activities.

The key to good playground design is for your playground to have a large variety of activities to attract children of all ages, heights and abilities as well as differing interests. There should be a balance of ‘easier’ more accessible play elements along with those that are more challenging. Consider including a variety of ground level activities. If there are not enough play elements that provide challenge, some children will go elsewhere to play, making the playground less inclusive or they will create their own challenge, making the playground more dangerous.

In this video you can see how children with disabilities do not need ramps to play.

Sensory play is important for all children and it is especially important for children with disabilities. Sensory includes movement as well as touch, sound, and smells. Parents have often expressed that the most important play equipment in a playground are swings. Playground manufacturers now make bucket swings with good seat belts to help children with disabilities position themselves in the swing.

Although the following video is long, it provides you with a understanding of the importance of sensory play. The video also demonstrates the positive impact good design has on children with disabilities and their parents.

Landscaping is another important part of playground design. Plantings can add great smells and textures. Landscaping can be designed to create quieter areas for children to have time away from the hustle and bustle of the playground. Landscaping can also ensure that there is shade over the playground. Shade is important for all children, but for some children with disabilities it is essential. If there is not natural shade, playground manufacturers have created a variety of ways to add shade to your playground.

To recap, here are the top ten things to think about when designing an accessible playground.
1. Make sure that “accessibility” stays on the table throughout the design process.
2. Include people with disabilities and parents who are raising children with disabilities on your planning committee.
3. Select synthetic surfacing for your playground.
4. Include a wide variety of playground activities.
5. If you are putting in ramps, make sure there is something to significant to do at the top of the ramp.
6. Provide a wide variety of challenge.
7. Include swings in your playground.
8. Provide a lot of sensory activities in your playground including movement, sound, and tactile.
9. Use your landscaping to enhance your playground by providing more sensory input as well as creating quieter places within your playground.
10. Make sure that your playground has shade.

If you have other questions about accessible playgrounds you can reach Mara at